8 Tips for Better Pet Photography
You’re playing with your four legged friend on a nice fall afternoon and once again you catch him posing, picture perfect as usual. You snap a photo- it’s adorable, but it lacks something. It’s not the eye-grabbing advertisement you saw at the big chain pet store, but what’s different? Surely Fido is cute enough. Right? My name is Joshua, I’m a Professional Pet Photographer / owner of The Dog Blog, and I’m here to teach you my top 8 tips that will take your pet photos from dust-collecting to awe inspiring.
1. Focus on the Eyes
This is a common rule of thumb for just about any portrait photography, capturing the “soul” of the subject (in this case, your dog). This can be done in a number of ways, but if you own a dslr or mirrorless camera my go-to solution for tack sharp eye focusing is switching to a continuous autofocus mode that will track the eye whether it moves closer or further away from you. This allows you to focus more on composition of your pet photos and less on focus acquisition
2. Control the Depth of Field
Mastering this alone can make your pet photos go from boring to eye-catching. Controlling the depth of field can allow you to “blur the background” more or less. For DSLR users this is done by manipulating the aperture value. A lower number indicates a more shallow depth of field, and applied along with tip #1 this can make for some beautiful subject isolation. For cell phone photographers, many new cell phones incorporate a “portrait mode” in the camera app that will simulate the “blur effect” with great results!
3. Consider the Landscape
This is a technique I find to be very unutilized and I practice it a lot in my shoots with clients. If you and Fido are taking pictures at a beautiful beach, INCREASING your depth of field and allowing more of the landscape to be in focus can really draw a viewer in and give them an idea of what inspired you to take the photograph in the first place! Including colorful landscapes in some of my portrait photos almost always leads to an unexpected “wow” moment for my clients.
4. Get Down to Dog Level
Most pet photos I see are taken from the same angle; eye level. Taking photos of your pet while standing gives the viewer an average experience, they always see animals from this view! Getting down level with or lower than an animal yields much more interesting results, giving the viewer a new look at a subject that they are already familiar with. It also allows you to capture more of your pets surroundings, which adds complexity and context to a photograph and brings me to my next tip.
5. Capture Your Pet's Personality
Building context for an image is important for any type of photography, but I’ve found that animals are by nature so expressive in body language it becomes almost a prerequisite for an outstanding final image. One of the questions I’m most commonly asked while I’m at a shoot is “What should I have him do?” My answer? Nothing. I think capturing a pet in its most natural element is critical to displaying what type of dog Fido is, how he was behaving during the shoot, and how he interacts with his surroundings. It makes the photo much more personal and relatable.
This one might go without saying, animals in action is, simply put, awesome. Capturing Fido jumping through that hoop however is much easier said than done! On cell phones, it can be very, very difficult to capture these moments due to a lack of features that these portable cameras bring to the table. For DSLR users however, you have some options. Raising the shutter speed by shooting in manual or shutter priority mode can eliminate motion blur and stop your pet mid-air. By utilizing the continuous autofocus mode that your camera offers, you can ensure that the focus tracks your pet throughout its erratic movements. Combining these two features is the best way to get tack sharp stop-motion photographs.
7. Compliment Your Colors
Finally, an easy one! Being aware of color is crucial when taking photos of animals. If Fido has orange fur, compose the photo so that a complimentary color is present in his surroundings. I often choose a blue sky, a body of water, or even some very green foliage! This creates more contrast in your photos and allows you to isolate the subject of your photo even further. You can even use color to guide the viewer's eyes towards important subjects!
8. Get Comfortable
Last but not least, let’s not forget that our pets are animals and above all they need to feel comfortable. Dogs especially can get a bit nervous around cameras and unfamiliar noises. For this reason, I shoot utilizing only natural lighting with no flash. A terrified dog doesn’t make for a cooperative model! At the end of the day, it’s all about having a good time and loving animals - so give lots of treats and go have some fun!
by Joshua Dustin
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